Tasty China had me at “hot and numbing rabbit cubes.”
Look! There! The fourth item on the menu.
I don’t know why these words warm my soul every time I visit this Sichuan standby in Marietta. Maybe because they sounds like a line of syllabic verse. Something from Dylan Thomas:
Hot and numbing rabbit cubes
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
I’ve never actually eaten this dish because it figures too highly in my imagination. Plus, there are too many other favorites I have to have every time I go.
The restaurant has definitely changed since the days in late 2006 (has it really been that long?) since I first tried the fiery cooking of former chef Peter Chang. This chef is long gone, as is bossy former manager Phuong Nguyen. But it is still one of my favorites, serving dragon-breath delectables in the familiar comfort of a tatty Chinese restaurant.
I can never resist the hot and numbing beef rolls (left) — a julienne of beef made nearly crunchy with hot peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, the whole wrapped in a tortilla-like flatbread with tender shredded iceberg lettuce hearts. I so wish there was a food cart selling these downtown.
The other can’t miss for me is the dish called “sharp pepper fish” (right), which combines soft tofu and fillets of white fish under a torrent of red pepper, scallions and crunchy fried mung beans. The unappetizing image that always comes to my mind is a flabby belly with horrible sunburn — so fat and anodyne beneath, so ferocious on top.
I always make room on the table for a new dish — on this visit something called “rice gluten with sesame pasta and garlic” (left). I’m fairly certain we got the gelled rice cakes with chili oil that, like the beef rolls, drips with red oil. It is surpassingly delicious for a bite or three (particularly with all those crunchy bits of Chinese celery atop) but the sheer oiliness catches up with you. I admit this after having snarfed the leftovers late one night and feeling like I should have perhaps just poured a Mazola cocktail. My friend, also an old Tasty China head, insisted we get the fish soup (right) with preserved cabbage. The tangy broth was a fantastic backdrop for the pickled cabbage shreds, cilantro stems (which have their own particular flavor apart from the leaf) and sodden cubes of ginger, each bite a mini-explosion.
Always a comfort. Always a thrill. You can’t say that about many restaurants.